Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

Riding through the land of Bacchus 

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A treat of Malbec & Torrontes

As I emerged out of the opening at the southern end of of the stunning Quebrada de las Conchas, I started to see the first vineyards popping up.
Whilst the area around Cafayate is essentially desert (I’m still getting used to the sight of cactus plants amongst the vines!), this high and wide plane is a unique and ideal spot for growing grapes thanks to warm winds, constant intense sunshine due to the altitude and most importantly, the extensive underground aquifers that supply this otherwise bone-dry region with water. Apparently the cold desert nights also lead to an extended growing season, and ultimately a more balanced wine. As a result, Cafayate is the second most important wine growing area in Argentina (after Mendoza), producing some of the best quality Malbec (red) and Torrontes (white) wine to be had.  This was a very welcome sign when it first appeared at the side of the road!:

So, what to do other than go wine tasting – and boy was I looking forward to that after the bit of stress over the past couple of days what with my blistered eyeball (thankfully now significantly improved).
I visited the Piattelli vineyard, a few kilometers walk from the centre of Cafayate. This is a very young vineyard (I think it’s been around less than 10 years even, tho may be wrong there), with a more established sister vineyard in Mendoza. I joined their tour of the winery (pretty high-tech thanks to some foreign investment and the equipment still being shiny-new), followed by a very good tasting, made most interesting by being able to taste side-by-side the Malbecs produced at both of their wineries (using exactly the same processes and grape varietals but tasting noticeably different).

During the tasting I met two gents from The Netherlands, and we hit it off comparing notes about the wines. As the wine flowed, so did the conversation (everything from the unfolding of Brexit (at which point we ordered a bottle to help drown my sorrows!) to the International Gay Men’s Rugby Tournament (as they were also in Argentina to drum up some local participation)). We decided to stay at the winery for lunch. With Malbec marinated beef ribs on the menu along with the very nice bottle we’d chosen, it had to be one of the best meals I’ve had on this tour so far…and also one of the priciest! I was absolutely amazed when I asked for the bill, only to find theese guys had already paid for the three of us. Two hours earlier they didn’t know me from Adam. We’d had a great time, and they’d already done me a favour at having a bit of respite time in their company being able to speak English again for a bit. I was hugely touched by this generosity and regret that we never even exchanged names!

The Piattelli Vineyard as I walked back to town in the middle of a sand storm

The winery

Comparing Malbecs from Cafayate and Mendoza

Touring the winery

Of course, it’s not all large-scale production and there are plenty of mom & pop wineries around in the region too. Cycling along the road later on I spotted quite few tiny private wineries like these, and would have loved to have paid a visit with a bit more time to spare:

Wine flavoured ice cream!
One other speciality of the area worth mentioning is the Torrontes and Malbec wine-flavoured ice cream. Being a hot day, I gave the Torrontes version a try along with some cactus plant favoured ice cream – another local speciality. Both very refreshing in the late afternoon heat and it was even served up with a poem.

After more than enough pampering for a day, it was time to get back on the bike and burn off all those calories (not remotely difficult in the heat of this sun!).

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